Local Commentary

Editorial: This Just In: Tortoise May Win!

It just may be remembered as a classic case of persistence, of a modern “Tortoise Versus the Hare” story.

The tenacious Falls Church Housing Corporation (FCHC) and its allies are poised to make some history by becoming the first entity in some years to actually get a new large-scale development project built in the City of Falls Church, and one of the few in the region and even nationally in this slumping economy. By virtue of being “shovel ready,” the FCHC’s long-sought downtown affordable housing project, albeit revised from when it received its last set of formal approvals from City officials in December, will be buoyed by a few federal stimulus dollars, and now looks like a solid bet to win the tax credits it needs from the Virginia Housing Development Corporation (VHDA) when it makes its formal application this Friday afternoon.

 

It has been years in the making. The FCHC, with Carol Jackson as executive director and Former Falls Church Vice-Mayor Dr. Steve Rogers as its board chair, began in earnest to construct a large-scale new affordable housing structure earlier this decade, encouraged by a $500,000 matching gift, resulting $1 million, from the late Bob Wilden (see story of Wilden’s impact elsewhere in this edition). They were advised to pursue locating such a structure on City-owned land, now a surface parking lot, next to the State Theatre. But howls from prospective neighbors reached deafening levels. Then, they were told about the City-owned land by the West End Park, in the shadow of the W&OD Trail bike bridge over W. Broad Street. That led to another excruciating experience, this time involving significant dollars in design and consulting costs on the FCHC side, and hours and hours of work on the City Hall side. Ultimately, the residential neighbors were so adamant that they needed at least half the land to expand the (now, again, as before, a totally underutilized) park, they arm-twisted the City Council into forcing a downsizing of the project to the point that it failed to pass muster in its bid for VHDA tax credits.

Then, over a year ago, the FCHC got up off the mat and leapt to its feet yet again, having negotiated an incredibly complex deal involving another non-profit and a private-sector partner to build 174 units on underutilized land in downtown F.C. adjacent property designated for the Atlantic Realty’s City Center South development. Wrestling once again with neighbors to the site, the FCHC went through countless hoops before winning approval on a split decision last December. But by then, the economy had tanked, and prospects looked incredibly dim.

Yet alas, they’re back, and ready to rumble. Fairfax County had to abandon its affordable housing funding policy this year due to the economy. Nothing from the private sector, even approved projects, is now about to come out of the ground. But here comes the FCHC!